The Village / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()
The first sign that a movie is just no damn good is when you begin to see blurbs from network affiliates or local radio stations like WABC-TV or The Orange County Register championing the film (with gratuitous exclamation marks) as a “Masterpiece!” or “Authentically Creepy!”
If you ever see an ad campaign for a movie desperate enough to use a blurb from Pajiba (!), you may as well go ahead and fork over your hard-earned $10 to the Ralph Nader campaign, for all a Pajiba review is worth.
Even so, if we were dim-witted enough to hand out a rave to this clunker, I hope you’d have enough sense to avoid clicking on the Pajiba ad to the left of your search engine results when searching for a movie review, because our credentials would be deeply compromised. But even we’re not that idiotic. The fact of the matter is: M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village packs all the terror and suspense — and none of the manufactured excitement — of a political party convention.
Poor M. Night Shyamalan: directorial genius; master of pacing; brilliant with atmospherics, and whiz with the stunning visuals. Unfortunately, he’s stuck in a genre of his own making, limited by his own success, forced to fill his movies with slow-paced tension, fake-outs, epiphanies, false clues, and, ultimately, a plot twist that has to be big enough to flummox a viewer that has already been considerably desensitized to the plot twists in The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. Indeed, after three relatively similar movies, the only way M. Night could really baffle his audience now is to break from formula. Unfortunately, in The Village, M. Night offers more of the same; except this time, not only does the ending under-perform, but the emotional set-up that is supposed to make you care about the twist ending doesn’t actually materialize.
The film is set in a sylvan town full of villagers cut off from the rest of the world and living in mortal fear of unseen creatures inhabiting the surrounding woods. We learn during the course of the movie that “those we don’t speak of” apparently love the color red and are attracted to the berries that crop up in the forest (and if that sounds lame to you, you’re in for a rough two hours). The monsters — who look about as convincing and terrifying as a the aliens in Signs — and the townspeople, led by William Hurt (doing his best Brontë) have an understanding: the monsters won’t bother the townspeople so long as the villagers don’t prowl around in the woods. Through the first half of the film, it mostly seems to work: the denizens of the village manage to work, to play, to fall in love and, generally, to get along with the baddies in the forest.
Nevertheless, Lucius (Joaqin Phoenix) — our quiet, though menacing, Puritan hero — wants to travel beyond the borders but is forbidden to by the town elders. Meanwhile, Adrien Brody, doing his best Gilbert Grape impression, ultimately mucks up the whole works, and Lucius’ blind fiancee Ivy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron, niece of Clint) is then forced to set off into the woods to find out what plot contrivance M. Night has come up with this time.
There are a few scares in The Village, but most can be attributed to James Newton Howard’s score: quiet violins occasionally punctuated by booms, which startle the audience, and leave us looking around onscreen to find out what the hell was so scary that we needed to be awakened from our slumber. The performances, by an A-list cast, are generally decent if underwhelming, though the charm of Bryce Howard — in her movie debut — nearly makes The Village watchable.
In the end, however, the biggest disappointment of The Village is that the set-up is so belabored and lifeless that once the ridiculous punch line finally arrives, you just can’t summon the energy to give a damn. Indeed, halfway through the movie, I was more interested in when Shyamalan would make his inevitable cameo than how he planned to wrap up this pretentious piece of hokum. If you haven’t already figured it out by the end (and brighter people than I probably will), the final twist is better than the rest of the movie; unfortunately, when it finally arrives, you’re still reeling from the stupidity of the penultimate twist that the “surprise” revelation leaves you mostly unsatisfied, and — after an arduous 108 minutes — in desperate need of a bathroom.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.